Expat life is so exciting! You learn so much about yourself while also learning about a new country, a new language and a new culture. We love sharing our own expat experiences – the good and the bad – as well as experiences from expat friends. This post explore all the ups and downs and everyday expat life of Lara from Living Expat Life. She’s passionate about the benefits of living abroad and left her native Slovenia for Chicago. Most recently, Lara has moved back to Europe and is living in Heidenheim an der Brenz, Germany.
Here is Lara’s candid take on expat life and living in Heidenheim. She has a lot to share and her tips for expat life and moving to Germany are valuable for anyone considering a new life abroad.
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Moving To Heidenheim an der Brenz, Germany
My expat journey started 1,5 years ago when I relocated to Chicago from Slovenia. Ever since I was a little girl I always loved traveling and exploring new cultures and I always knew I wanted to move abroad one day.
I was happy in Slovenia but I always wondered if maybe there was something bigger waiting for me outside of my comfort zone. In 2019 my dreams came true. I moved to Chicago where I lived with my partner for a year. Then we decided to move closer to our families and began applying for jobs in Europe.
We were searching for new opportunities in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. They’re all close to Slovenia and have a high quality of life compared to some other European countries.
My partner got a job offer in Aalen, so we decided to relocate to Germany. After 4 long months of searching, I finally found my own job opportunity in Heidenheim an der Brenz (close to Aalen). At the beginning of May 2020, we were moving to Germany.
Since we’re European citizens we didn’t have to apply for any type of visa. This made the whole process easy and smooth (except for the fact that we moved in the middle of a global pandemic). When we arrived in Germany, we had to stay in quarantine for 14 days – not fun at all!
We’ve been living in Heidenheim for three and a half months now. We are slowly adjusting to our new environment. Moving to Germany was a big change for us. We moved from Chicago, an American city of 2.8 million people, to a small town with only 50,000 residents.
Our plan is to stay in Heidenheim for at least a year and see where life takes us.
Living in Heidenheim an der Brenz, Germany
What is it Like Moving to Heidenheim, Germany?
We chose Heidenheim as our new home because it was close to our workplaces. There were other benefits to living in Heidenheim as well. The cost of living in Heidenheim is cheaper than bigger cities like Munich or Berlin. We also wanted to experience living in a smaller German city with a slower pace of life.
Moving to a smaller city in Germany also meant that people aren’t used to foreigners and can be reserved when it comes to meeting new people. I had a hard time in the beginning because I didn’t know the language and people here prefer to speak only German. For example, I had to visit a doctor in Heidenheim, and on their website, it said they speak English. However, when I arrived, the nurses didn’t speak a single word of English. The doctor did his best, but he only knew some basic words and the whole appointment was a major struggle.
I studied German in high school for 4 years but I didn’t really use it. Now that I need it, I have forgotten almost everything. I’m trying to get back on track and after only a few months I can already engage in small talk! Not knowing the language is one of the hardest things you face as an expat. If you’re planning on moving to Germany, I highly recommend you begin learning German as soon as possible.
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Making Friends as an Expat Living in Heidenheim
Heidenheim was a completely new place for us from the very beginning. Because we had never even visited it before moving to Heidenheim, we didn’t know any one when we arrived.
We’ve become friends with a couple of colleagues and we try to meet them for lunch or dinner at least once a week. Socializing and networking in Germany, especially in smaller cities like Heidenheim, can be very difficult. People here need more time to open up and we completely respect that.
On top of the normal challenge of making friends, 2020 restrictions have made it hard to meet new people. Normally, we would join different sports activities or a club, but it’s not possible at the moment. We definitely plan to put more effort into meeting people and reach out to other expats, because right now we don’t know any.
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Since I have been living in Germany for only a few months, I don’t feel like a local yet. I think I will need more time to really adapt to my new environment. Especially in 2020, it’s been a bit harder to acclimate to my new home away from home.
I’m learning German through online courses on Lingoda and the Babbel app. I’ve already learned a lot in the past few months and I’m pretty proud of myself!
To get more adjusted, we go to the city center at least once a week, alone or with our friends. We are trying the local food and exploring different parts of our city.
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Dealing With Homesickness While Living in Germany
I’m very attached to my family and when I first moved abroad 2 years ago, it was really hard for me. Since then I’ve learned how to deal with homesickness and it has definitely become easier.
Now that we’re living in Heidenheim, we are actually quite close to Slovenia (7 hours away by car) and we drive home once a month. We usually spend a weekend there and I’m grateful that we are able to do that. My family and friends also visit us in Heidenheim.
Whenever we’re apart, I stay in touch with loved ones through Facetime and Whatsapp. Those chats help to deal with homesickness while living in Germany. Overall, it’s much easier than it was in Chicago because we live much closer to our family and friends.
There are still days when I feel like I’m missing out. This is especially true when my family members are having a birthday party and I’m not there. Birthdays are always a big event in our family and we always have a lot of fun celebrating together.
One thing that helps me when I’m feeling homesick is staying busy. Besides having a full-time job, I blog and work on other projects. Because of my busy schedule, I don’t really have time to think about being homesick.
If you’re dealing with homesickness, I also recommend networking as much as possible. Your new friends will eventually become your second family and spending quality time with them makes you feel better. If you want to know more about how to deal with homesickness on a daily basis, then you should check out my article with 6 tips that will help you win the battle.
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Working in Heidenheim, Germany
How Do You Find a Job in Germany?
Currently I’m working as a Marketing Intern in a medical company in Heidenheim. I graduated from Marketing Communications and Public Relations program last year and I have more than 4 years of experience in the Marketing industry. Despite the fact that I have all these working experiences from different companies in the USA and Europe, it was difficult to find a job in Germany.
I started applying at the beginning of December 2019 and it took me four months to find a marketing position in Heidenheim. The biggest issue for me was language – companies in Germany prefer hiring candidates that are fluent in German. Since I am not, it was a struggle.
I sent over 200 applications and had a couple of interviews. I applied through LinkedIn, Indeed and other major job search engines. I also wrote a lot of unsolicited emails directly to companies and asked them if they have any open positions.
Every day I dedicated at least 2 hours to job hunting and in the end, it paid off. I got the call from the company that I’m working for now and received a great offer. and I began working in May 2020.
What Is It Like Working in Germany?
I’m lucky to work for an international company where everyone speaks English. If you’re planning on moving to Germany and you want to find a job quickly, start learning German. Make sure to search for job opportunities at international companies, where you can use English on a daily basis.
Working culture in Germany is quite different from what I was used to in Chicago and Slovenia. For example, in the company I’m working for, people have very strict rules and are very task-focused. That’s why the work-life balance In Germany is much better than other countries.
Everyone finishes at 4 pm and they leave their work behind, but the work environment isn’t as relaxed compared to what I experienced in Chicago. My colleagues in Germany are very reserved, especially when it comes to meeting new coworkers. That’s why I experienced some cultural shock during my first week working in Germany.
I expected my new colleagues to be open-minded, but it was the complete opposite and I didn’t really feel accepted. In Chicago, my boss and other coworkers invited me for lunch on the very first day and they wanted to know more about me and my story. I felt really good and even more motivated for work. I guess I was hoping that the same thing would happen in Germany but it didn’t.
Still, after a few months, my work experience is definitely better than it began. I had to accept the fact that I can’t change German culture and I have to give them time to open up.
Daily Life While Living in Heidenheim, Germany
Heidenheim is a small town with around 50.000 people and it’s part of Baden-Württemberg state. It’s pretty close to bigger cities like Ulm, Munich and Stuttgart, so on weekends my partner and I are doing these small trips because we miss living in a big city. It’s really convenient that Munich is only a 90 minute drive away.
Local Life in Small Town Germany
Locals here in Heidenheim and its surrounding area speak the distinct German dialect of Swabian, which is really hard to understand. It’s a very specific dialect and as a foreigner you have to listen to them very carefully to understand even basic words.
Heidenheim is known for river Brenz. Its source is at a spring in the town of Königsbronn and it flows for 52 kilometers before meeting the Danube at Lauingen. So you can take a nice walk by the river and stop in Brenz park, a green oasis in the middle of the city.
You will also find a beautiful castle called Hellenstein and it is located 70 meters above the city. I guarantee you that you can take amazing pictures up there and the view is just lovely.
There are also a lot of cute bars and good restaurants in the city. You will find places with Asian, Indian, Mexican and typical German cuisine. We are foodies so we like to explore different restaurants but we also love to cook at home, that’s why we go out for dinner or lunch 1-2 times per week.
Finding a Place To Live in Heidenheim, Germany
There are many nice neighborhoods in Heidenheim. When we first moved to the city, we rented a temporary apartment in Mittelrain. We wanted to take our time to find the perfect apartment, so we explored different areas of the city. In the end, we found a lovely apartment in the same neighborhood, Mittelrain, where we stayed during our first month.
This is the biggest place we’ve lived in as expats and we love it! It has a lot of natural light, a terrace, a small garden and a lot of trees. The neighborhood where we live is quiet and peaceful with an older population and now us! It’s the perfect neighborhood because we are no longer part animals.
Now that we’re living in Heidenheim the daily routine hasn’t changed much compared to our daily life in Chicago. We work a lot and our schedule is quite hectic during the week. We stay active, so we often go on long walks or we do yoga at home. When we’re not working, we like to hang out with our friends and explore new places. Our expat life in Germany is definitely far from boring!
The Cost of Living in Heidenheim
The cost of living in Germany is quite reasonable compared to other European countries. The south of Germany is the most expensive area in which to live. Munich and Stuttgart are amongst the most expensive cities to live in Germany.
If you live in a smaller town like Heidenheim, the costs of living are less than other cities like Munich or Berlin. The minimal salary in Germany is around 1500€ (1776$) per month.
Costs of living in Heidenheim:
- Monthly rent for a 2 bedroom apartment: 600 – 1200€ (710-1420$) + expenses
- Cost of commute monthly: 40€ (47$) for gas; day pass for all public transport is 4€ (4.7$)
- Beer from a local bar: 3-4€ (3.55 – 4.74$) for 0,5l
- Common take-away food (pizza, shawarma, noodles, etc): 10-15€ (11-16$)
- Decent dinner for two: 40-50€ (47-59$)
- Typical grocery bill for a week of shopping: 70€ (82$)
Lara was born and raised in Slovenia, a small gem of a country set between Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. She started living as an expat in 2019 when she moved to Chicago. She is a Marketing Specialist. She is also a Foodie and she will never say no to a good Lasagna. In her free time she writes for her own blog Living Expat Life, travels and enjoys time with her partner.